Sounds Like Titanic
Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman
Imagine being hired to play violin in a prestigious touring orchestra, only to discover that the microphones are turned off. What’s turned on is a $14.95 CD player from Walmart, playing a recorded version of a composer’s music, performed by other musicians. Also imagine that the music sounds suspiciously like, but a strategic note or two different from, the score of the popular 1997 film, Titanic.
Oh, and the job also includes gigs “playing” violin and selling The Composer’s CDs at craft fairs and malls. When you’re a college student, struggling to pay tuition, you might be okay with that.
Here’s a terrific memoir about a young woman from West Virginia who dreams of becoming a concert violinist, but isn’t quite good enough, something she quickly discovers in her first year at Columbia University. She takes the violinist job to help pay her tuition, where she majors in Middle East Studies. Her study abroad in Egypt has just begun when 9/11 happens and, while most American students return, she decides to finish out the semester, preferring to develop her war correspondent skills. Back at Columbia, scrambling between classes, doing the work, and making money to pay for the classes, the author hits many lows, turns to drugs and suffers debilitating panic attacks.
It’s during Hindman’s time in college, after 9/11, when she begins to question what is real and what is fake, a major theme in her memoir. Her gigs in the orchestra are a perfect metaphor for these feelings, which to her also represent Bush’s responsibility for the Iraq War and his failed search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
While Hindman’s book is mostly about her experiences, the reader gets a look at who the unnamed orchestra leader is, but she only refers to him as The Composer. She does not want to “out” him. Her reasons are clear. He is wildly popular during a post 9/11 period of American anxiety and is wholly devoted to his fans, whom he spends hours greeting and listening to after concerts. He also supports and donates large amounts of money to many worthy causes. He’s clearly selfless in that regard. She says in the beginning that, “when it comes to the most genuine gesture an American can make—giving away money—The Composer is the real deal.”
As a reader, however, I wanted to know who this enigmatic man was, the one who continues to smile maniacally during performances and public appearances and demands the same of his performers. It’s easy enough to find out who it might be, but by the end of the book, it doesn’t really matter.
I highly recommend Sounds Like Titanic to anyone who likes a good story. It’s well-written, real, funny and original. Hindman abandoned her dreams of becoming a concert violinist and a war correspondent. But during that period, she came to better understand herself. She received her MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Columbia and a PhD in English from the University of North Texas. She now teaches creative writing at Northern Kentucky University.
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